An editor’s life — the dark side

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, July 01, 2013

Travel brings on stress, and stress leads me to empty out Advil bottles. Here, a Russian television crew is interviewing me about the upcoming total solar eclipse August 1, 2008. // all photos: Holley Y. Bakich
Recently, I took two Advil, which polished off the bottle I had kept in my desk since I opened it 631 days (451 weekdays) ago. That’s how long it took me to go through 100 tablets — two at a time — each containing 200 milligrams of painkiller. At first, I viewed my rate of consumption of a pair of pills each 12.62 days as pretty good. That is, until I looked at the previous bottle.

I had purchased that one, which was identical to the one I just depleted, April 9, 2009, and it had carried me to August 10, 2011. That’s a time period of 841 days, of which 601 were weekdays. My former rate of consumption, therefore, had been a “double star” of Advil every 16.82 days.

Three possible reasons for this uptick in my personal drug use immediately came to mind: 1) Pfizer, the maker of Advil, has somehow secretly diluted its formula; 2) this job has gotten much crazier during the past four years; 3) the Grim Reaper is stretching his claws in my general direction.

I’ve never trusted Occam’s razor. It’s too simplistic for my complex life. The answer to my 33 percent increase in pill-popping cannot, therefore, be increasing decrepitude. To me, this eliminates reason number three.

I think I can ditch possibility number one, too. The Food and Drug Administration probably tests Advil and thousands of other pharmaceuticals several times a year. So, Pfizer probably hasn’t substituted in “Ibuprofen lite” yet, no matter how much profit it would make the company.

While in Beijing, I took my July 22, 2009, total solar eclipse group to the ancient observatory where we saw this early incarnation of a planetarium. People actually had the temerity to ask questions. Oh, my head!
That means the answer lies behind door number two: It’s the job. Right? It has to be. But I’ll need proof before I go ask my boss, Astronomy’s Editor David J. Eicher, if he agrees that I would make a more significant contribution to the magazine from home one day out of every three (33 percent of the time, which equals how much my narco-habit has jumped).

My plan for convincing Dave is to make a list of the five worst things about any job. I figure then I can relate each of these to my situation here and, voilà, I’ll make my case. Obviously, the first one has to be intolerable working conditions. And, wow, do I have that one covered. A few weeks ago, our company-provided free Starbucks coffee machine was inoperable for nearly an hour. Inconceivable! Question: What’s an acceptable substitute for caffeine? Answer: Advil!

Point number two is having to get up in the morning. I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. When I applied for this job, I assumed all astronomy was done at night and that I might — on rare occasions like office parties — have to wake up before the crack of noon. The reality of the situation has me hitting the tiny plastic bottle like a crack addict.

The third intolerable thing about this job is that I’m surrounded by competent, committed people. How can anyone expect me to advance when my co-workers are so talented? It’s not fair, and I’m not afraid to say so! Pass the medicine.

While on a trip to Arizona to view the annular eclipse May 20, 2012, I visited Lowell Observatory. Thinking about the unfair treatment Pluto received from the International Astronomical Union always gives me a headache.
Numero quatro is a work-related hardship I’m certain will garner sympathy from everyone reading this: the demands of travel. In the 10 years since I started here, I have had to uproot my life for periods sometimes in excess of two weeks to head to destinations nobody has ever heard of: China, Tahiti, Greece, South Africa, Bolivia, Spain, Russia, Chile, Italy, Turkey, Easter Island, and California. And not just travel, either. People on those trips — mostly to view total solar eclipses — demand that I speak to them about astronomy. Oh, my aching head. (Personal note: When I travel, I carry a different bottle of Advil, so those doses don’t even count toward this total!)

And the fifth reason I’ve become a not quite socially acceptable hop-head is the slavish devotion to deadlines everyone around me seems to adhere to. Good grief, people! Will Earth stop rotating if we’re a few weeks late getting an issue out? Does anyone really think our subscribers, the most sensitive and understanding group of people I’ve ever known, will quit reading the magazine if they miss a couple of so-called “once-in-a-lifetime” sky events because I’m taking 12 positive steps to curtail my drug-fiend lifestyle? What? Really?

OK, I know I said five things, but there is another, and it’s been a thorn in my side for seven long years: Pluto is no longer a planet. Don’t get me started. Just pass the Advil.

Uh oh. I knew this would happen. Like a double-bass drum at a death metal concert, all this thinking is bringing on the pain. Anybody have something for a headache?

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